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Minimally invasive surgeries, a widely hailed recent healthcare breakthrough, has strengthened the belief of medical professionals that technological advances can significantly enhance the quality of treatment on top of extending patient longevity. Driven by the motive to create a novel experience that will define the future of AI-assisted medicine, Taiwan AI Labs, a government supported organization, is empowering the healthcare realm with its medical image and data analysis solutions.
“Taiwan AI Labs is the first non-profit AI research initiative in Asia and strives to empower the area of healthcare,” states Ethan Tu, Founder of Taiwan AI Labs. Earlier in his career, the industry veteran had served as the Principal Development Manager of software giant Microsoft Corporation and even founded Taiwan’s popular online forum PTT in 1995 before spearheading the continent’s most prominent AI ecosystem.
2017 marked the launch of this non-profit initiative by the government’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), aimed at creating an environment that fosters AI research & development in the nation.
Merely two years since its inception, Taiwan AI Labs unveiled its flagship solution suite TAIMedImg to the medical realm, aimed at diagnosis by harnessing the powers of AI. The AI-powered platform, which can be seamlessly integrated with the PACS systems of hospitals, employs deep learning algorithms to analyze medical images and detect lesion locations and sizes, allowing physicians to be notified of diseases immediately.
TAIMedImg has been instrumental in detecting ailments related to the heart, lung, and brain in addition to identifying diseases such as malaria. The platform is equipped with an integrated AI pulmonary nodule detection system, which facilitates lung cancer categorization, detection, and prognostic prediction.
The platform also extracts blood test results and vital signs data from smart ICU systems installed at hospitals to identify sepsis risks and notify physicians inform patients. In addition, TAIMedImg is instrumental in detecting metastatic brain cancer and acoustic neuroma, as well as capturing ultrasonic images and pulsations of the heart.
AI-Clinics Is the Medical Realm’s New “In-Thing”
The accuracy of automatic brain tumor interpretation in the clinical stage is almost equivalent to human labeling. Director at TVGH, Guo Wan-You states: "In the past, it took 10 minutes for a doctor to interpret these images. Now, with AI, it takes about 20 seconds with little to no margin of error, effectively reducing the burden of doctors..."
At the end of February, TVGH officially launched the "AI clinic" program. This development spurred all major hospitals to develop AI solutions rapidly. In 2017, the Ministry of Science and Technology plans to utilize five Billion Taiwan Dollar (TWD) to create an AI platform within a span of five years to promote Taiwan's ambition of AI industrialization.
Advanced Precision Medicine Transformed by Medical AI
Unlike many developed nations, Taiwan has been amassing crucial health data in its official National Health Insurance (NHI) system since 1995. However, very little has been done to leverage this digitized data to solve complex human health problems. Due to the NHI system, every Taiwan medical institution has standardized its medical records. Taiwan AI Labs leverages the benefits of historic Electric Health Records (EHRs) to enhance the field of medicine through collaborating with doctors and scientists. Taiwan AI Labs is recognized for being the first organization to offer AI-powered diagnosis solutions to top tier, reputed healthcare institutions across the country such as the National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH), Taipei Veteran General Hospital, National Health Research Institutes (NHRI) and Taipei Medical University Hospital, with the systems being widely used by doctors at these institutions.
The implementation of this technological wonder helped Tainan gain the reputation of being the first city to adopt a comprehensive 360-degree AI-Drone platform for smart city solutions
Similarly, several other recent noteworthy examples exemplify the non-profit initiative’s contribution to healthcare. One such instance is the development of the AI Sepsis automatic warning system, built exclusively for the Taipei Medical University Hospital. "Sepsis is a very serious disease. There are 1.5 million patients suffering from the ailment in the United States, and the mortality rate is as high as one-third." Ray Jade Chen, the Head of the Taipei Medical University Hospital, stated that it is estimated that there may be 150,000 sepsis patients in Taiwan. As such, they introduced the AI-powered solution in the hospital’s ICU last year, which can automatically transfer, integrate, calculate and record the patient's physiological information. Taiwan AI Labs provided medical prediction and alerts, equipping the ICU with AI and IoT, which can successfully alleviate the burden on many doctors and respond to patients’ needs efficiently.
TAIMedimg Compliments the Intelligence of Medical Experts
Malaria is an notifiable disease in Taiwan. Although it was eradicated in 1965, there are still 10 to 30 cases caused by immigration every year. Once a hospital receives a suspected case of malaria, an image of the patient’s blood smear is sent to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for diagnosis. However, the only Eagle-Eye (top-ranked) expert in the department, Guo Mingzhu is about to retire. Taiwan AI Labs has collaborated with Ms. Guo’s team to develop an AI algorithm to diagnose malaria. Now, AI Labs is working with the CDC to release an open dataset (images of the patients’ blood smear) with malaria labeling and the detection algorithm to curb the disease, which will be freely available to all global medical institutions. This technology can also help diagnose malaria in areas where no experts are available.
Regarding the vision of AI in medical development, Tu said that in addition to malaria, there are many other diseases, like malaria, which have already been eradicated in Taiwan but still require medical attention. As the number of experts retire day by day, Taiwan AI Labs will continue to work with the CDC to learn from the experts to diagnose infectious diseases.
TAIGenomics Facilitates Genomics Studies
Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) by next-generation sequencing produces millions of variants for just one individual. AI algorithms and advanced computing power can significantly aid in studies that deal with these variants. Collaborating with National Health Research Institutes (NHRI), National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH) and Taiwan Biobank, Project TAIGenomics is setting up a standard platform for Taiwan Genomics studies, which takes raw data from genome sequencing and provides AI-powered analysis for scientists.
"Taiwan AI labs is recognized for being the first organization to offer AI-powered diagnosis solutions to several reputed healthcare institutions across the country"
One such tool is variant2literature, which facilitates full-text literature searches for genetic variants. Over two million documents shared by the international academic community as well as records of long-term treatment of patients from various hospitals were indexed by the variant2literature. TAIGenomics takes the results of genetic sequencing and compares it with the results of AI analysis. With the power of AI, TAIGenomics can accelerate the efficiency of a physician’s analysis and diagnosis, accumulate patient case data, and build a database to the path of precision medicine.
Taiwan AI Labs is widely recognized for its contribution to the medical sector, but the firm’s resources are also dedicated to image recognition, social/natural dialogue, human-centered design, and even AI-influenced music. The company’s latest stride in AI voice and facial recognition is its unique application called Yating. Over the past few months, the audio-visual recognition capabilities of Yating has distinguished itself from other reputed Chinese speech recognition engines such as iFlytech and Baidu. Working with the Department of Nursing in Taipei Veterans General Hospital (TVGH) and Taipei Medical University Hospital, Yating ensures the interaction between humans and machines is a lot more humane as compared to a typical chatbot.
Tu mentions that quite recently, his team also collaborated with Taiwan’s Social Innovation Hub, led by the digital minister, Audrey Tang to develop an AI pianist, the first of its kind. The highlight of this intelligent instrument is its ability to play music tailored to each individual listener and his/ her feelings. AI-assisted natural communication and music treatment has become a highly preferred approach among medical centers recently. Taiwan AI Labs is optimistic that the AI pianist will soon be hailed as a great invention worldwide.
The Benefits of Adopting the AI-Drone
Apart from empowering the healthcare sector with its exemplary systems, Taiwan AI labs has also played a pivotal role in urban governance and assisted several municipal bodies in the recent past by engineering their exclusive AI drones. The organization recently photographed the entire Anping region, a district situated in Tainan city, by employing its exclusive AI-powered drone. The implementation of this technological wonder helped Tainan gain the reputation of being the first city to adopt a comprehensive 360-degree AI-drone platform for smart city solutions. Authorized users could access the footage captured by the gadget, select scenes and direct camera movement to get a holistic view of the city. Tu mentions that utilization of the platform along with an enterprise-specific AI model would help firms perform construction inspection, detect the number of vehicles on the ground, determine the occupancy of parking spaces, etc.
To paint a clearer picture of the various benefits that comes with adopting an AI drone, the industry veteran cites the example of the Netflix blockbuster ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’. This interactive movie offers viewers the option to choose the decision for the actors at various levels, leading to different outcomes. Quite similarly, citizens of Tainan can select different routes and explore multiple aspects of the region—a never-before-seen unique approach to smart city solutions. During natural disasters, the images captured by the AI drone can aid in estimating agricultural losses and help environmental experts and municipal authorities devise intelligent disaster prevention mechanisms. The AI-driven approach also helps in addressing environmental concerns, such as river pollution, which has been paid little attention so far.
First, open AI research institute in Asia — The Road Ahead
The National Health Insurance (NHI) budget has exceeded 700 Billion Taiwan Dollar (TWD), which accounts for 35 percent of the Taiwan total government expense (about 2 trillion TWD), growing at a rate of 3 to 5 percent per year. Compare that to the growth rate of the medical industry in the world, which is about 8 to 10 percent. If the health care budget continues to grow at the current rate, Taiwan will soon be prompted to reform or redefine medical systems and structures before going bankrupt. Experts in Taiwan are now banking on precision medicine leveraging AI to prevent disease earlier and better, cut down on useless treatments, faulty diagnoses, repeating labor efforts and providing better long-term cares. The inception of Taiwan AI Labs has drastically bolstered the development of the country’s AI sector. “We aim to help healthcare institutions leverage the power of Artificial Intelligence to detect and prevent diseases in the days to come and thus illustrate how a cutting-edge technology discipline can immensely benefit the whole of humanity. Most importantly, we are striving to bridge private and public sectors as well as technical experts and academicians from the world over by harnessing the power of AI,” concludes Tu, revealing a glimpse of his organization’s roadmap.
July 08, 2019